On Monday, a bill that would have allowed multi-family duplexes to be built on land zoned for single-family units failed at the last minute. despite a rally and quick voting by Assembly Democrats.
Senate Bill 1120, authored by Senate President Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would have allowed the building of duplexes or two separate single family houses on single-family zoned land without local reviews or hearings if the rental price of units was affordable for people with moderate, low, and very low incomes. While there were a few other caveats, such as limiting demolition to current buildings for the addition of a duplex and not building in historical neighborhoods or areas, the bill would have largely overridden local laws across the state.
The bill would have also allowed land owners to split land in two, allowing up to four houses be built on land that originally had been zoned for one.
Senator Atkins had written the bill due to a massive affordable housing shortage in California as a way to increase housing and bring more affordable units into residential areas. She had also written SB 1120 in response to the failure of SB 50 earlier this year and other similar housing bills that had failed to pass either house.
“SB 1120 is a good way to help meet California’s affordable housing goals while respecting local flexibility,” said Senator Atkins in May. “SB 1120 makes small-scale infill development more achievable, and it helps build equity for individual homeowners, not large-scale corporations. SB 1120 also builds on our incredibly successful approach to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which has led to a quadrupling of applications for ADUs in most metropolitan areas since we changed the law for these units.”
“SB 1120 would have been a disaster for most neighborhoods”
The bill easily passed a Senate floor vote in June 39-0, but soon amendments over some of the wording popped up in subsequent months. Local concerns over the affects of SB 1120 also began compounding. Many resident groups in Los Angeles and the Bay Area called out that this could lead to gentrification of many neighborhoods. African-Americans groups specifically protested against the fact that this would undue decades of progress for black families to move into neighborhoods and undue redlining, with many affluent suburbs and cities also giving outcry over what it could mean for cities not designed to incorporate so much housing.
“SB 1120 would have been a disaster for most neighborhoods,” Dan Sahakian, a Los Angeles neighborhood president and former utility planner, explained to the Globe. “A lot of these cities, as well as neighborhoods in larger cities, have roads, sewer lines, water lines, and other utilities just designed for single-family units. If they added many duplexes and quadplexes as they can under SB 1120, then that would just break many cities capacity. Look at parking alone. Even wealthy suburbs have trouble keeping enough street parking. What will happen if you increase the number of families on a street by, say, 10%-25%? And not increase parking? Disaster.
“And it also means pedestrians, more pedestrians, next to busier roads, so safety issues come up. I know the bill specifically doesn’t allow this in many neighborhoods, but that will not include most poor neighborhoods. So a developer can swoop in, put in a bunch of these and call them “affordable” even though they may not be for long, and bring all of these problems with the added problem of displacing poorer people.
“No wonder they didn’t pass this thing.”
The frantic end of session voting to pass SB 1120 Monday night
Assembly Committee votes in mid-August showed fewer and fewer lawmakers supporting the bill, with many Democrats joining the GOP in opposing the bill due the detrimental qualities of SB 1120.
This was all brought to a head on Monday night. The Assembly and Senate needed to pass the bill on the floor before midnight due to the numerous amendments from earlier in the year constituting a revote. In the first Assembly vote the bill actually failed by three votes.
Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), was forced to bring her newborn baby with her from Oakland for the vote when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) denied her a proxy vote as she was no longer at high risk for COVID-19.
Wicks begged for the bill’s passage on the floor. “Please, please, please pass this bill,” pleaded Assemblywoman Wicks while holding her baby. “I was actually in the middle of feeding my daughter when this bill came up,” she said after arriving on the Assembly floor. “I just come down here in strong support of this bill, and urge my colleagues: It’s the simplest way we can have density that still adheres to neighborhood character.”
“And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
However, many Republicans and Democrats remained unswayed, adding new reasons for opposing the bill such as not having enough time to properly going through the bill and being “pressured” at the last minute to approve it.
“This is a major piece of public policy and we should be debating this not for 15 minutes, not for 30 minutes but for several hours,” noted Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Yucca Valley). “I still could support, maybe next year, but not this year, because we haven’t had the time to properly debate it.”
SB 1120 killed by the bell
In the next vote at 11:57 PM, SB 1120 was approved 42-17 largely due to the urgency of the bill causing many to switch votes.
However the Senate, already working on other bills, failed to pick it up and vote on it in time. At midnight the bill died, to the shock of many lawmakers who earlier in the year saw it as a “sure thing”.
“We were preparing for the worst,” added Sahakian. “But we won by beating out the clock.”
“Every time California tries one of these housing bills it fails spectacularly, and I guess tonight wasn’t an exception. We can breathe easier for at least a few more months.”
While SB 1120 has been defeated, Democrats in both houses have promised to introduce more bills aimed at the housing crisis in California in the near future.